Marketing or Pigeonholing?: The Christian as Author Part VI
Posted by Brian
Over the last few weeks as we’ve talked about the Christian as author, one theme that I seem to keep returning to is the idea of illegitimate divisions. For instance, I don’t see that there needs to be a difference between “good” literature and “Christian” literature—they can be one and the same. Neither do I think that certain, specific themes or ideas are always necessary to set something apart as “Christian” nor do I believe that the absence of those themes necessarily means that something doesn’t exhibit a Christian worldview. It occurs to me that perhaps part of the problem with all these divisions can be found in recent marketing methodology itself.
First, let me get it out there that I am, by far, a rank amateur when it comes to marketing theory. I can speak with some authority in other areas—history, for instance—but I don’t want to put on airs where none belong. What follows is my general opinion, and I feel a little guilty about offering it up without more specific research to bolster it. Then again, isn’t that what blogs are for? 🙂 Of course, I do have one claim I can make: I have been the victim of all sorts of marketing, I know how it strikes me, and I know how I have reacted.
From where I sit, I think that part of the potential issue is that when we set out to market a product, we are told that in order to effectively do so, we must identify very specific, self-conscious niches and aim for them. This technically should begin before you even create your product. When you do, it should be tailored to the individual needs and wants of your particular niche. Once complete, you then set out to reach that group with an equally tailored set of tactics that demonstrate to them exactly how your product is something that group cannot live without.
As consumers, these tactics have encouraged some less-than-desirable behavior traits and ways of thinking. From the cradle to the grave, we are taught to believe that our own little group is and should be the center of the proverbial universe. Bombarded on all sides each day by contradictory information and competing truth-claims, we filter things out based most often on what happens catch our attention as being the most interesting/applicable to our group. We also, just as often, look down on/mock items or ideas that are associated with other groups with which we fail to identify.
That plays into the cultural “Christian fiction” divide in a couple of ways, neither of them positive.
First, on the business level, it promotes the idea that Christian books must, by definition, be written specifically for the Christian subculture, published by Christian publishing houses, and sold in Christian bookstores to Christian readers. That sometimes comes about via self-segregation of the worst kind (i.e. Christian authors and publishers who only “preach to the choir”) and at other times it is external (i.e. if something is explicitly “reserved” for Christians, why would non-Christians read it?). In the former situation, we end up with the rot I openly mocked in my initial post in the series. In the latter, we have the equally useless false dichotomy of having to decide whether a piece of literature is “Christian” or just “good,” the topic of post number four. Publishers will insist on pigeonholed books because “everyone knows” that is what sells. If a book doesn’t fit the premade categories, it risks complete exclusion.
Second, on the level of individual people, this marketing environment builds walls of mutual exclusion and, at times, positively unchristian thinking. Both sides of the religious fence presume that in order for something to be worth their time it must be reserved exclusively for them. That sort of thing plays to our vanity, and it makes us feel special. Christians will feel spiritually superior for only reading “Christian” books from Christian bookstores, while non-Christians simply write off as worthless anything to which such labels have been appended. Perhaps worse, authors who simply try to write good stories from a consistent worldview tend to be forgotten and are sometimes actually denigrated for being “traitors” to their group when they write something that appeals to a broader audience. Christians have a particularly bad habit of doing just that.
Lost in the shuffle, of course, is the idea that, as Christians, we might actually just sit down and produce a good book about pictures or characters in our heads; that we might write a story just to tell it, rather than to sell to a specific group of people. Of course, that is exactly what C. S. Lewis did with the Chronicles of Narnia, which began not as an attempt to sell millions of books to kids, but when the whimsical image of a faun carrying in an umbrella in a snowy wood skittered across his brain. When Aslan came “bounding” into the story, the rest essentially wrote itself.
I wrote my book first and foremost to be a good story about a number of lively characters, places, and ideas that I felt almost obligated to bring to life as a sub-creator in the Tolkienian sense of the word. Like Lewis, my book is generally aimed at younger readers (about 9th or 10th grade), but I hope that anyone “old enough to read fairy tales again” will enjoy it. I don’t want it to be pigeon-holed, but I fear that if we don’t do the “smart” things, Waverly Hall: Relois will languish in cyber space, unread.
The answer to the dilemma? I haven’t the foggiest idea.
Next Week: Another example–C. S. Lewis v.s. the allegory
To get a real sense of this, slow down and look around you the next time you’re in Walmart or some similar location. Try to really comprehend the sheer number things that are all demanding your attention and your agreement—from the claims on a tube of toothpaste (Our’s gets your teeth the whitest!) to the talking heads on the video screens (We sell for less!). Then, try to imagine the immense effort it would take to really make sense of it all, if you seriously tried to sort through them and decide which ones were really correct. That goes a long way, I think, to explaining why people just don’t care anymore–they simply let themselves be attracted to whatever is the shiniest, from their point of view.
By way of example, I’m reminded of the way some Christian musicians are treated when they actually have a song that is a hit on both secular and Christian stations. Those around in the late eighties/early nineties will remember what happened to Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith.
Other Posts in the Christian as Author Series
- The Cesspool Of Christian Fiction
- What? Me Christian?
- A Holistic Approach
- “Good Fiction” or “Good Christian Fiction?”
- Of Christian Authors and Christian Pizza Makers
- What does it look like?
- Tolkien and the Rebellion of Melkor
About BrianI am a history professor and author living with my family in the Virginia Mountains. It's hard to improve on a life like this!
Posted on September 15, 2011, in Authors, Books, Brian Melton, C. S. Lewis, Children's Literature, Christianity, Fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien, Literary Criticism, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, The Chronicles of Narnia, Theology, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged C. S. Lewis, Christian fiction, J. R. R. Tolkien, marketing, pigeonholing, The Christian as Author. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.